Going From Work to Postgraduate Study – Some Pros and Cons
If you’ve gone straight into work after finishing your undergraduate degree, there are lots of reasons why you might want to return to university life at some point. Perhaps you’re keen to come back with a more advanced qualification, or you’d like to enter a completely different profession.
Of course, the past 18 months or so have also brought a whole new set of reasons to think about doing a postgraduate programme, with the pandemic making many people reconsider their priorities. If you’re currently considering your options, we have a whole section on our website devoted to last minute Masters courses, with applications still open for September entries.
Whatever your motivation, going back to university to begin a postgraduate course is a big decision, and one that I made myself in 2016. Having worked for a few years after graduating, I wanted a change of scenery and to equip myself with the transferrable skills of a Masters, so I relocated from Sheffield to the University of Amsterdam.
Here are a few of the pros and cons that I came across in the transition from the 9-to-5 grind to postgraduate life.
Let’s get the cons out of the way first. A Masters is a great opportunity to develop new skills and potentially enhance your career, but there are some things you’ll miss from working life (in addition to the salary). The trick is knowing how to manage the change.
#1 Downsizing your budget
It can be downright scary leaving your job and a regular income behind to start a Masters. I was used to a life of (relative) luxury when I began my course, and had to adjust to a much more stringent monthly budget upon my arrival in Amsterdam.
The good news is that you may have enough free hours to juggle a part-time job with your studies: many Masters have substantially lower contact hours than their undergraduate equivalents.
If you’re studying an MA like mine, you’ll probably find that you have more free time than you know what to do with! Once I had my reading list and assignments under control, I found some flexible casual work to fill up my quiet weeks.
We’ve written some tips on combining Masters study with part-time work.
#2 Reacquainting yourself with the delights of referencing
After getting a decent period of work experience under your belt, you’ll probably find that your knowledge of the finer details of academic life is a little rusty. You may have the office hot drinks round and the full suite of Microsoft Office shortcuts committed to memory, but the Modern Humanities Research Association referencing and style guide will probably feel like the distant past.
And don’t even get me started on the Dewey Decimal System.
My advice would be not to make the same mistake as me and put off referencing that first essay until after you’ve written it. Give yourself plenty of time to clean up your formatting and, if possible, get someone with a better grasp of MHRA/Harvard/Chicago (delete as appropriate) to give it a once over before the deadline.
Similarly, don’t feel too disheartened if you’re left wandering up and down the aisles of your university library, trying to track down that elusive copy of Time’s Alteration: Calendar Reform in Early Modern England. Who knows, perhaps you’ll stumble into an obscure corner of the library that’ll ignite your next research project.
Now I’ve listed the two main disadvantages that sometimes accompany the shift from work to postgraduate life, I can talk about the positives of making that transition.
#1 You’ve (hopefully) expanded your intellectual horizons in the meantime
Having temporarily escaped the confines of the university after your bachelor’s degree, the time between undergraduate and postgraduate courses is a good opportunity to expand your intellectual horizons without the worry of grades, essay deadlines and exams. Granted, you may have a whole raft of new, work-related responsibilities to think about, but these needn’t stop you from pursuing academic interests in your spare time.
The way you go about this is up to you. It could be as simple as finally reading that doorstop of a novel you’d never had time for at university, or keeping up-to-date with the latest developments in your niche.
It’s also worth asking your former lecturers about any conferences or academic events happening at your previous university – if nothing else, these are usually a great source of wine and nibbles!
#2 Applying your professional experience
Hopefully you’ll begin your Masters with a fresh pair of eyes and some newfound enthusiasm for your subject. Taking several years out from higher education can give you new perspectives that might not have been available had you gone straight into your Masters as a raw graduate. With substantial work experience under your belt, you’ll probably also have a unique skillset that you can bring to bear on your Masters degree.
In my case, I realised that working for a few years meant I had more self-discipline when it came to writing lengthy assignments and, eventually, my dissertation. Having delivered a number of complex and time-consuming projects for my former employer, I had little appetite for the all-nighters that typified my undergraduate degree. Out went last minute panics, and in came rigorous planning and scheduling.
Of course, you might have had all this under control during your bachelor’s already. But I found that the 9-to-5 rhythm really stuck with me, to the point that I got pretty much all my writing done during the day, freeing up my evenings for less academic pursuits.
#3 Life after your Masters
Ultimately, you’ll finish your Masters better equipped and qualified either to go back into employment or to continue in academia. This combination of work and academic experience is something you can use to set yourself apart from the pack in job interviews.
If you were initially unsure what to do with your life, finishing a Masters after working for a while will hopefully help you to make a more informed decision about your prospects, giving you the chance to reflect on what’s best for you and your career.
Don’t forget that we currently have over 2,000 Masters courses
listed on our website still accepting applications for a 2021 start. Many of these programmes are geared towards professionals returning to education, making them ideal for those looking to change their career direction.
Editor's note: This blog was first published on 19/10/17. We've checked and updated it for current readers.
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